Much like any business, you need to be sure that you focus on the important and relevant issues to be profitable. Here is a pre-tax season questionnaire that will help you address these issues:
1. Do your employees have a documented tax season performance plan? Which jobs need improvement? What kind of improvement does there need to be and how will it be measured?
2. How will delegation be improved? Will you make expanded use of your administrative staff? Will you be able to convert administrative contribution to billable service?
3. How well are you managing non-billable time? Are you tracking it and are you setting controls and deterrents so that unnecessary time can be avoided?
4. Are you taking full advantage of your time management system? Do you know what the updates would provide and are you using them? Are you integrating scheduling and billing?
5. Are you using a client accountability system to create ramifications for missed deadlines, by clients and poorly prepared information?
6. Are you up-to-date on your clients' investment activity and do they know what you need to best manage their tax planning?
7. Are you aggressively evaluating retirement plan options for your clients, as well as the timing for implementation?
8. Are you going to modulate work flow and cash flow by programming returns for extension and penalizing clients for late submissions?
9. Are you using a minimum fee format for all kinds of tax compliance?
10. How will you be breaking down the pressure each week?
11. Will you be using an individualized, weekly, or daily priority system?
12. Which clients will you approach for expanded services, during your tax planning and year-end planning meetings?
13. Will you recognize client longevity and, if so, how?
14. How will clients learn that you would like referrals and which clients will you encourage?
15. Do you know what you need to do to position your firm for sale/merger or acquisition, right after tax season, if you are so motivated?
16. Do you know what your options would be to avoid a sale/merger or acquisition?
17. Is your practice continuation agreement up-to-date, and if you do not have one, should you?
18. What is your method for receiving client feedback and comments?
19. Will you be able to poll clients on their top five business and financial concerns?
20. What are the three significant improvements you will make this busy season, compared to previous tax seasons?
These questions are reflective of the kinds of matters that should be evaluated and, ultimately, prioritized for action. Every practice will have its own unique answers to these questions and approach.
If you have multiple owners, work with your partners using this questionnaire, or a comparable one, or use a checklist to make the right strides. If you are a sole practitioner, bring your employees into the process, and turn to trusted outsiders as a sounding board.
As you work your way through the pre-tax season questionnaire, you should set a timeline for achievement and create a definition for success. Progress and results need to be monitored and evaluated regularly, even during busy season. Each of the twenty designated questions are provocative and worthy of consideration, but cannot all be addressed comprehensively, at once. The issues you select will influence the frequency and the nature of monitoring. Under all circumstances, monthly reporting is a practical approach.
Each tax season brings its own flavor and pulse. The better busy seasons are the ones with little, if any, tax law changes, stable tax software performance, and accommodating weather. The best tax seasons are a function of how well you manage the "business" of tax season, whether the government or nature cooperate, or not. Given all of the time accountants spend working during tax season – getting the optimal results is essential.
Take the time to plan and process the kind of busy season practices that the questionnaire highlights, and you will set the stage for your best tax season yet – an award that you will continue to strive for each year.